Body & Soul: Renew and Relax with An Herbal Massage


| February/March 2005


Combining herbs with massage creates a sensual experience so indulgent, it can be difficult to remember the massage is also therapeutic. This combination of herbs and massage is so successful that hospitals are studying — and using — aromatherapy massage to relieve stress and anxiety, and to promote healing.

If you’ve ever given or experienced a massage, you know that slow, relaxed breathing allows muscles and a tense mind to relax. I like herbal massage because this deep breathing comes automatically as the client begins to inhale the herbs’ aromas. Even bodywork techniques that require little or no massage oil, such as acupressure or foot reflexology, are enhanced when a small amount of aromatherapy massage oil is placed on the fingertips. I’ve seen clients slip into deep relaxation so quickly during an aromatherapy massage that they seem to melt into the massage table.

Essential Oil Facts

The magic of aromatherapy is in essential oils. Derived from medicinal herbs, just a few drops of these oils turn almond oil (or any other mild vegetable oil) into instant massage oil. Essential oils work in two ways: The natural aroma of essential oils causes emotional and physical responses via the brain. Plus, they penetrate the skin to underlying tissue and the blood system to distribute their therapeutic properties. Massage oil offers the safest way to use essential oils, which are so concentrated that they rarely are used undiluted.

For massage, the most important essential oils are those that produce relaxation, reverse insomnia and reduce depression, anxiety and pain, including headaches and stiff joints. The most popular essential oils for massage are those that do double duty by relieving both muscle pain and stiffness while calming emotional distress. Examples are chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and marjoram (Origanum majorana). Some essential oils often found in massage oils for their antidepressant, relaxing aromas are bergamot (Citrus bergamia), scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), neroli (Citrus reticulata), rose (Rosa spp.), sandalwood (Santalum album) and the tropical flower ylang ylang (Cananga odorata). Aromatherapists suggest that clary sage (Salvia sclareas) be used to encourage emotional release. Various combinations of these oils can be mixed together to combine their properties and create a pleasing scent.



Massage oil also may contain small amounts of stimulating essential oils, such as peppermint (Mentha xpiperita), clove (Syzygium aromaticum), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). These warming oils are used in liniments to relax tight muscles. Their scents also increase an individual’s alertness and focus. In a form of traditional Thai massage I’ve studied, therapists place hot packs of herbs over tight muscles to loosen them before massage.

Massage Oil Selection

Several brands of aromatherapy massage oils are available at health-food stores, and massage practitioners who practice aromatherapy often have a selection of oils from which you can choose. Whether you are the therapist or the recipient, be sure the massage oils are made with pure, undiluted essential oils derived from plants rather than synthetics. The bottle or brochure should state the purity and provide specific Latin names for the herbs. Also, make sure the label says “essential oil” rather than “fragrance oil.”








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